How are you measuring your eCommerce promotions' advertising and breakeven?

Historically, the catalog industry has measured the response rate for various promotions, the advertising cost of the promotion and its breakeven based on demand, product cost etc.  Along comes the eCommerce world and many of the new promotional methods (such as email, affiliate programs, etc.) are apparently not being measured.

At the same time, companies that were traditionally catalog oriented are spending 25% to 35% of sales for catalog advertising costs to create, print and mail catalogs.  On the other hand, while the eCommerce programs are much cheaper, our research shows they are spending 2% to 15% of net sales on eCommerce promotions.

The problem today is that the eCommerce costs are additive, incrementally.  It's not an offset to the catalog costs.  And at the same time businesses have not been able to decrease catalog costs or eliminate the catalog without severely cutting sales.

Tell us how you are measuring your eCommerce promotions in terms of advertising and breakeven...
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How to Make Vendor Compliance Programs Work For You

Of all the strategies for reducing costs in your business, vendor compliance programs may be the most underdeveloped. A well thought-out, formal vendor compliance program can reduce supply chain logistics costs, reduce freight costs, speed up order processing, and lead directly to increased customer satisfaction. In order to achieve this it must spell out your requirements and the charge-backs for vendors' non-compliance.

Without a formal vendor compliance program, your supply chain logistics has no recourse but to absorb both direct and hidden costs for noncompliance. Without compliance it is impossible for a merchant to implement advanced supply chain systems, ASNs, just-in-time inventory, source marking and ticketing, or RFID programs. A good vendor compliance program will not only avoid pitfalls but will reduce the time spent dealing with vendor disputes, claims, and charge-backs.
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Why Marketing, Merchandising, Inventory Management Departments Need Business Intelligence Tools

I was sitting in a client meeting for business intelligence tools (BI) and dashboard planning this past week, and the Merchandising, Marketing and Inventory Management people were squaring off over why Merchandising’s results never tie back to Marketing and Inventory Management.  Some of it was argumentative, but when you step back and look at it objectively, it shows why business intelligence tools and executive analytics have such great promise for the retail and direct industries.

At every step in the product and promotion life cycle, these three departments’ needs are different—but at the same time they all revolve around gross demand planning and results.  (By “life cycle” I’m talking about the Marketing side of planning a campaign, re-forecasting results once the initial demand is in, and then potentially re-projecting after half the campaign when the majority of sales are in.)

Merchandising’s needs are about the pre-season merchandise plan or the continual planning for the eCommerce site; the forecasting by catalog drop; and the end of the season.  What quantity of each product is needed across all promotions—print, eCommerce and store?

The thing that ties these three departments’ planning and results efforts' together is gross demand data. Marketing arrives at the catalog gross demand plan based on their circulation plans by drop, by house file, and by outside list segment.  They also must think through all the “electronic” media in which specific products are featured—website home pages, e-mail, affiliate campaigns, etc.—and give some direction to Merchandising and Inventory Management.

Ideally, Merchandising’s catalog pre-season plans are built top-down by merchandise category, and bottom-up by product.  But they should come close to tying together with Marketing’s demand plans at the demand level.

Then we have Inventory Management.  It’s their job to interpret the plans and selling results and purchase product far enough in advance to be in stock when customers order.  From an inventory perspective, the Inventory Management plans aren’t going to tie back to the others’ plans exactly. Management allows Inventory Management to purchase more product than the demand plans indicate, based on vendor lead time, vendor discounts offered, etc.

Week-for-week, one of the hardest things to do is read selling trends and interpret them in a way that allows you to make the right decisions—which ultimately provide the base line projections for yet other departments, such as call center and supply chain logistics. Yet from an uninitiated perspective, it looks like a free-for-all, with many different versions of plans and results.

How can business intelligence tools, dashboard and executive analytic tools help with this critical decision-making?  The business intelligence tools can provide a consistent view of all the data, so that whether they’re analyzing demand or sales, all departments are utilizing a standardized view of the same data.  This allows each department to look at the segment of data that is meaningful to them.  Business intelligence tools allow users to take cuts of the data and compare them in multiple ways, whether it be this year to last year or actual to plan, as well as to reassemble the data and analyze it from one department to another.  Each department needs to maintain their own way of analyzing data, but also be able to bring their plans and results together in a consistent, uniform way.

The more we talked, the more the client’s managers got back inside their skins. And they realized how important having a single version of the truth, through business intelligence tools and executive analytics, would be to planning and reconciling results—day-for-day, week-to-week, and throughout the year.

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Selecting the Right Systems for Your Third Party Logistics Business

More and more companies today are using third party logistics providers to avoid making investments in that non-core area, or in technology necessary for it. We’ve also seen hundreds of start up eCommerce companies that simply don’t want to be in the fulfillment business. All of these companies are turning to third party logistics providers. With so much riding on it, it is very important that as a third party logistics provider, your order management system (call center, customer service, and marketing) and warehouse management system (warehousing, order management, and fulfillment) and technology give you a continuing competitive advantage. The systems you select will have significant ramifications for your personnel’s productivity, as well as how effectively you serve your customers and help them grow their businesses—and the management information these systems provide can help you grow your business. No matter what type of system you’re considering, the purchase is a long-term investment. In short, selecting the right order management system and warehouse management system for your third party logistics business is a major undertaking.
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Achieving a Single Version of the Truth

How many times does this happen in your company? You go to a meeting about sales performance, and Marketing says they think sales are up 3.5%, but the merchants disagree and say sales are up 6.3%. The specific numbers in this example aren’t important; the point is that the two figures aren’t even close. That’s the reality in most companies today.

Or, say management has tasked you with developing a report and you try and go back to prior results, maybe from a season or two ago. How many different versions of the sales, purchase and inventory plans are there? Which ones are the actual and which were prior versions?

Some might say "we could do a better job of controlling and eliminating versions of plans"—which is certainly true, and something every company should work toward. Or you may say "if we use only one enterprise system we can eliminate this dilemma". But that isn’t really the solution; such order management systems aren’t viable for most companies, and anyway, there are multiple data elements that are all valid for whatever processing order management system is being used. There isn’t a “single version of the truth”—one official set of figures for sales, inventory, plan, history, etc.

Take for example a product’s inventory. You can find sales plans on a user-derived Access system or Excel spreadsheets. A product’s inventory on hand in units and dollars occurs on your order management system. A separate best-of-breed warehouse management system will also include the same product on hand, but needs to be synched up daily. The finance system will also carry the total company inventory in dollars—probably not updated real time, but daily or weekly. You may also have a specialized standalone forecasting and inventory management system, to project inventory by promotion or catalog campaign.

Additionally, because the major transaction systems require a high degree of training, management does not use them as the source for their information. Management has to go to extremes to get what they need, either by requesting that department managers pull data or by using business analysts to come up with reporting. Because these are manual efforts using sources not originally geared to management’s needs, they are delay-riddled, error prone processes. And they still don’t deliver a “single version of the truth.”

You get the picture. There simply isn’t a “single version of the truth” for the major data elements used in many businesses. For management to have confidence in the integrity of the data they’re getting, I think the time has come to advocate and budget for projects that resolve these problems. Such problems are not new, and I believe they inhibit the effective management and growth of direct businesses.

Here is a hierarchy of solutions you should consider:

• Extract data from major transaction processing systems into Excel or other reports
• Access databases, and business analysts using OLAP tools
• Data warehouse products
Business intelligence tools with dashboards and analytics

It’s time to advocate with management for solutions to this problem. Especially in this recovering economy, knowing exactly where you stand is essential. You can only control expenses and inventory and know which products and promotions are working—and which aren’t—if you have accurate data on which everybody across the company can agree on. In our experience, companies that used business intelligence tools to overcome such information problems have been successful in getting a positive ROI from these types of systems within 12 to 18 months. And in today’s business environment, that’s a “single version of the truth” on which all companies can agree.
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Supply Chain Strategies to Control and Reduce Expenses

We all know we’re coming out of a tough business climate. With many companies ramping up for fall and holiday seasons, there is an urgent need to increase productivity and reduce costs without having to make major capital purchases to do so. Here are some supply chain strategies to reduce your cost per order, increase capacity without expansion, and improve service levels in your supply chain logistics. The source of this information is experience gained in our supply chain consulting work with multichannel companies, as well as from the Supply Chain Summit.

Perform an Operational Audit

A warehouse assessment is a great starting point. Warehouse assessments will identify your needs, and help recognize potential improvements to process, layout and use of space, staff productivity, warehouse management system (and peripheral systems) and freight analysis. The objectives are to lower the cost per order, increase storage capacity within the existing center, reduce inbound and outbound freight costs, and improve service levels and turnaround times.

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Learning From History - Leon Gorman on L.L. Bean

Leon Gorman led L.L. Bean from $2.25 million to $1.2 billion from 1967 to 2001. In a keynote speech in Boston several years ago, he recalled the life of his grandfather, Leon Leonwood Bean, who founded the renowned outdoor gear and apparel company. Gorman believes that the company has prospered in large part because it has maintained its values, perhaps epitomized by the tenet "Treat people with respect, or they will not respect you."

Gorman has written about the company and its growth in the last half-century in L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon. This is one of the industry's great books. It painstakingly charts the changes in marketing and merchandising that achieved these dramatic results over 38 years. The book discusses the synergy and the necessary tension between marketing and merchandising. The role that supply chain strategies, including call center, plays in providing exemplary customer service. Staying true to the principles established by his grandfather L.L., sourcing the best outdoor products at the right price, how the college and preppy trends accelerated L.L. Bean's growth, trying to sell to women shoppers without getting caught up in fashion trends, providing a 100%, no-quibble guarantee (there are legendary stories about shoppers returning outdoor gear after extensive wear). It is the ultimate in customer service and kept customers coming back. Bean's huge retail presence in Freeport, ME and the slow charting of retail growth outside the region. Gorman talks about how different these channels are for them.

I met Leon Gorman in the mid-1970s. Mr. Gorman was friends with Mr. Frank O'Reilly, the then president of Brooks Brothers. In a very forward-thinking strategy, Mr. O'Reilly launched the first Brooks Brothers' catalog when BB had less than 20 stores. At that time I worked for Garfinckels, Brooks Brothers, Miller & Roads, Inc., in the corporate data center as the manager of research and development (systems and programming). Our team was invited to Freeport, ME for a week to explore all the aspects of order management software and customer service. Mr. Al Schmidt was in charge of the marketing at that time. Mr. Gorman and his team couldn't have been more gracious and thorough in educating us on the basics. Back then there were no commercially available order management systems. I vividly remember Mr. Gorman walking us through how he guided the selection of product and worked with creative to paginate the catalogs, and his concern for developing new products. We designed and programmed our 370 mainframe system by emulating L.L. Bean.

In the book, Mr. Gorman continually talks about the top guy being thoroughly involved with the merchandising of a direct company, something which is obviously very difficult to do given this rate of growth. Without continual product research and development and sourcing, retail and direct businesses are essentially out of business.

What's interesting about the way the book is written is that many people were interviewed, current and former L.L. Bean managers across the company and consultants as far back as Stanley Fenvessy. Mr. Gorman has his commentary and the other participants give their viewpoints (they are identified by name and position). This illustrates the contrasting viewpoints of various people who charted and achieved the company's long-term growth. But one thing for sure, Leon Gorman was ultimately in charge, and he held himself and the company accountable to achieving the best results for all stakeholders.

This is a great read. Get your team reading it now. Especially for young managers it's a great way to see how all the functions fit together.


Curt Barry is president of F. Curtis Barry & Company, a national consultancy focusing on warehouse, systems, and inventory management.
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Developing Plans to Improve Your Warehouse's Peak Performance

You made it through the peak period “but it wasn’t pretty.”  The additional volume revealed some serious issues in your fulfillment operation.  Your people weren’t able to meet the service level standards.  The facility was filled beyond capacity, became disorganized and almost impossible to move through.  You used far more overtime than planned. 

During the peak period or shortly afterward is the time to do a peak period assessment and address how well your fulfillment team is serving the customer and meeting or exceeding the company’s goals in terms of service levels and costs.  While your most recent peak season is fresh in your mind, develop plans for operational improvement and implement before the next peak. 

To digress for a minute, when you’re “in the heat of the battle” and it’s not too late, take the time to start a list of symptoms or observations for improvement.  As consultants we find that being on-site during the peak is a real benefit to the assessment process later.  Sometimes we have been able to make observations and recommendations to improve processing and throughput immediately.

Our focus for this article is the warehouse operation, but a similar approach can be utilized for other areas of your business. The important thing to do is to spend time evaluating your past performance and putting a plan together to correct any issues that are identified. In many cases, the process of gathering information and data pertaining to the warehouse operation identifies potential improvements by itself. Many warehouse operations are not evaluated in both a qualitative and quantitative manner and as such opportunities for improvement are never fully identified. In order to improve anything, it first has to be measured and evaluated.  Be methodical in making the observations and analyzing the results.

The peak period assessment should be everyone’s priority.  One aspect of any effective audit of the operation is to involve those who were intimately involved. If you don’t actively involve warehouse supervision and hourly employees in the analysis, you are missing one of the most valuable assets at your disposal. Those closest to the action usually know and understand the issues and solutions better than anyone else.

Learn How to cut your costs by 10-20%

It’s impossible to detail all the things that should be reviewed in one article.  However, we have focused on the major areas of concern and where you should spent your time to get the biggest benefit. 

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Using Initial Customer Order Fill Rate to Measure Customer Service

When you look at all the metrics multichannel companies can use to measure customer service, initial customer order fill rate (ICOFR) is the one that I think is best.

ICOFR is the percentage of orders that are shipped complete—all items that were on the customer order—within your company’s shipping standard. For in-stock product the shipping standard of most well-run operations is 24 hours from receipt of an order.
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How Well Is Your Warehouse Treating Your Customers?

It never ceases to amaze me how companies will spend untold time and money to source product and find someone to buy it and then provide poor enough fulfillment services that the customer never comes back. If you consider the cost of acquiring a customer, it makes sense to me that you would do everything in your power to keep them.

One situation to consider is when an error is made in shipping an order to your customer. There is the obvious cost of correcting the error including the numerous phone calls, extra warehouse expense to repack the order, freight cost to reship it, the packaging materials required, etc. These costs can amount to $15 – $30 or higher depending on your internal costs. This cost of correcting an error is significant but the cost of losing a potential life long customer is huge.

Another problem area centers on not meeting customer’s expectations for timely delivery. If you guarantee same day delivery or delivery within 7 days, you had better meet those expectations. Customers today not only have a very quick fuse when it comes to forgiveness for mistreatment, unless you have a corner on a particular item, they can and will go elsewhere. Thanks to the Internet, you are exposed to unlimited competition in many cases.

If you consider the statistics indicating that only a fraction of those who buy from you for the first time will come back, it makes it even more important to take good care of them the first time. If you combine those who will statistically not buy again along with those who you upset because of making an error or missing a promised delivery date, you can quickly see the importance of making sure the fulfillment function delivers on your company’s promise of customer service.
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